Public Land Fight

The Sagebrush Rebellion was one of the first organized anti-environmentalist protests in the West. The rebellion advocated against public land reforms and natural resource industries. With the rise in progressive policies for public land protection and environmental protection groups, lots of public land became protected by the government under law, and it essentially had to be left alone. The Sagebrush Rebellion wanted the federal government to stop making decisions for the land of certain, mostly Western, states. The states viewed this control as overbearing and something they had no control over, and they wanted the right to make their own decisions over the public land in their own state. Members of the rebellion saw the land protection as being supported by “outsiders” or people who were not from the area at all, and went against the values of the people who actually lived there. The rebellion wanted the states to be able to make their own decisions, a large proponent of rising conservatism. It gained momentum by involving citizens and getting wealthy corporations, donors, and industries to give financial and political support. 

Similar to the Sagebrush Rebellion, the Wise Use movement was a populist movement aimed at fighting public land regulations from the federal government. However, this movement was vastly more successful than the Sagebrush Rebellion. The Sagebrush Rebellion was mostly located in state and the federal government and had little success in passing their own legislation. The Wise Use movement was mostly active at a local and state level, which resulted in the vast involvement of citizens, this gained the movement more followers. Citizens fought for their constitutional rights to bear arms, own private property, and exercise political liberty (138). The movement was organized in a way similar to that of the environmental groups because those were successful. At local gatherings people could sign up to join the movement for a donation of $5 and people were educated on what the movement was and fought for. This method was able to attract a large number of supporters and helped spread the conservative movement across the West. The movement wanted people to be able to, “bear arms in national parks, access private property surrounded by national parks and wilderness areas, and graze cattle on the public lands.” (139) Essentially, they fought for the ability to do what they wanted on public protected land. Instead of being an “anti” something organization, the Wise Use movement was seen as a social movement for the ability to do something, which gained it much more attention and adaptation into conservatism and success in politics. 

The battles over public lands in the West shaped the New Right by pushing for states rights. Prior to the battles over public lands, many Republicans fought for environmental protection laws/strategies because the majority of voters supported it. However, as the public land battles took place, Republicans were able to shift towards work against it under the title of states rights. States rights meant less federal government involvement and more private sector control over land. This concept was a large aspect of the New Right as they fought for more individual rights to own property and control what went on, on that property. 

2 thoughts on “Public Land Fight

  1. I like how you discussed how the Wise Use movement would allow donations towards the cause and in return they would educate the people on what the purpose of the movement was. I believe it was a very easy way for the organization to gain more followers and spread their beliefs to people. I also agree with your view on the pushing of states’ rights, and how it was a movement to gain not only individual freedom but also state freedom. States at the time did not have as much freedom as they do now. These movements were a turning point for the states’ law-making.


  2. I really liked the way you have some how set the differences between both movements. It is quite important to differentiate between the Sagebrush and the Wise Use environmental movements. the two movements have different goals and approaches towards environmental management.


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: